Category Archives: Parenting

The Next Time

Yesterday afternoon I got a phone call from the social worker at the girls’ school. This didn’t set off any alarm bells; when you have a kid with an IEP (which we do, for Eleanor and her language disorder), sometimes you get calls from the social worker to schedule or follow up on meetings. I assumed this was one of those calls.

It was not. I don't need to be saved. I can do that myself!

“I’m calling to let you know that Eleanor and another female student experienced some behavior from some boys that was making them uncomfortable,” the social worker said.

“Oh?” I said, small red-alert lights flashing in my mental peripheral vision.

“Yes, Eleanor was uncomfortable talking about it. She was embarrassed, but she was able to write it down in enough detail that we could question the boys, and they admitted the behavior.”

“What … what exactly happened?”

“It sounds like the boys were whispering things in the girls ears and making thrusting motions at the girls.”

“Oh, no.” Sinking feeling. “That’s not good.”

“Well, Eleanor was very helpful and we have encouraged her to tell an adult right away the next time something like this happens.”

“Um, how many times has this BEEN happening?!”

“There was apparently one incident last week in music class, and then again this week. We have called all the parents involved. Eleanor was very helpful.”

I got off the phone in a daze, sent off a text titled “MOTHERFUCKER” to Chad, who was out of town on business, and promptly burst into tears. Because she’s NINE. And they are already talking about  THE NEXT TIME. And of course they are, because of course there will be a next time. Of course there will be a next time that she is made uncomfortable, or worse, just by virtue of her precious, beautiful, female body.

You know it’s coming, as the mother of a daughter. I mean, as a parent of any kid, you know the time will come when your kid encounters prejudice or bias or just plain-old assholery from the world, and you won’t be there to kick the assholes back to where they came from. But especially as a mother of daughters, you know that some – maybe even most – of that ugliness will be related somehow to her femaleness, and to the seriously fucked up sexual attitudes we’ve developed in this culture. Maybe I should have been ready for it earlier, only you can’t ever be ready for it. You cannot be ready for the punch to the gut that reminds you that no, you can’t protect your daughters from it. They’re going to have to run the gauntlet themselves, just like you did.

So I managed to calm down before I went to pick the girls up from their after school program, wondering if Eleanor would want to talk about it or if she would be too embarrassed, running through all the various worst-case scenarios that my anxiety-driven demons could come up with. (Would she be permanently scarred? Unable to make eye contact? Wearing a huge scarlet A on her chest?)(Note: anxiety-driven demons are usually way, way off base. Also apparently they read too much Nathaniel Hawthorne.)

Eleanor was her usual buoyant self, chattering with her friends, forgetting her shoes, excited to see me. Anxiety levels decreasing. As we’re getting in the car, I say “I hear you had kind of a tough day today.”

“Oh, the social worker called you?”

“Yeah,” I say, like it was totally no big deal and we’re discussing the weather or something. “What happened with those boys?”

“Oh, mom, they were being totally inappropriate and saying REALLY inappropriate things and it was making me super uncomfortable. They were doing it to all the girls. Like sex stuff and penises and what boys do and making noises (she made uh-uh groans and thrusting motions while a piece of my soul slowly died), and it was gross.”

“Yuck. That sounds SUPER gross. That is not ok for those boys to do that. So who spoke up about it?”

Eleanor gave a little half grin. “I did.”

I high-fived her and told her I was so proud of her, and that she did exactly what she was supposed to do. And we talked about how sexual harassment feeds on silence and that lots of girls don’t tell people about it because they feel embarrassed and like they did something wrong or they might get in trouble, but how it’s NEVER your fault if someone makes you feel uncomfortable, and it’s not tattling to tell grown-ups about that stuff. And she said it was really weird to be in a room with three grownups (the principal, the vice-principal and the social worker) and just one kid (her) and how they kept telling her it was a “safe space” but it was totally embarrassing to talk about so finally she just wrote it down. And I told her again that the social worker had said how helpful it was that Eleanor was able to do that, and again how proud I was of her and that she did exactly the right thing.

And we went to get dinner and talk about other things, like the upcoming caucus, and weekend plans, and normal life stuff. And I came out of the evening an odd mixture of sad, angry, proud and hopeful. But like, 45% sad, 60% angry, 75% proud, and 32% hopeful. 212% feelings. THIS IS WHAT IT’S LIKE IN HERE, PEOPLE.

Hug your babies. Raise your boys to respect. Raise your girls to speak up. Hope for a better tomorrow. Cry for the hard today. Love wins.

(This post was written with Eleanor’s permission.)

Nobody said this was gonna be easy

“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” —Elizabeth Stone

messyheart

I have often said that my main experience of motherhood is one of having my heart cracked open, over and over again. In the main, this is a good thing; open-heartedness is better than the alternative, and I can state with absolute conviction that motherhood has made me a more patient, compassionate, and forgiving person. I know many functioning adults who evolve these qualities all on their own; apparently I had to spawn to get them.

But sometimes having a cracked-open heart hurts. And last night was one of those times.

Eleanor, my oldest kid, is not happy about us moving south. This didn’t exactly come as a surprise; she’s almost 10, and she’s at that weird tween crossroads where your friends and school life are starting to become more important than your family. My youngest, Sylvia (almost 7) is sad to be leaving Minnesota and her friends, but she’s also excited to get a new house, and be closer to Gramma and Grampa, and try new things. But for Eleanor, there is only sadness. The first thing she did when we told them about the move was cover her face with her hands and burst into tears. And declare that she wasn’t moving.

Continue reading

Feet of Clay

Remember that one time when I said I was probably going to lose my marbles this summer? Well, I think it might have happened this last week. Specifically, three nights ago, when I had the shattering epiphany – possibly accompanied by ugly crying – that my slavish devotion to researching the shit out of every country we “visit,” finely honing my bulletin-board decorating skillz, and imposing random art projects on my children (who are not interested) and their friends (who are, bless them), is probably less about giving my kids a fun-filled-yet-highly-educational summer experience and more about showing the world that I really *can* do things with my brain and that I haven’t completely gone to seed in the years since I quit working full-time.

This is a lowering realization on several fronts. First, it means that those moms? The ones I sneer at for being all “craftier than thou?” I AM ONE OF THOSE MOMS. Argh. Second, as a lifelong feminist, I strongly object to the stereotyping of stay-at-home-moms as ninnies whose interests are limited to Kinder, Küche, Kirche. But apparently my own brain engages in precisely such stereotyping and is making me crazy because of it. Stupid brain. And third, FUCK I hate being so goddamn insecure about who I am or what I want to be when I grow up (and when does that happen, exactly?) that I feel like I have something to prove. To somebody. Maybe myself. Probably. Oh, and fourth, or maybe third-and-a-half: I’m an IDIOT, because it’s not like I have a fucking supervisor in this job. So, I mean, for whom am I performing? Who is supposed to be lauding me with praise for doing such an all-around swell job with this summer camp? Which I’m not even doing, given that I spend more time prepping each week than I do, say, interacting with my actual children. Not that it matters, because THIS IS NOT SCHOOL. THERE IS NO FINAL GRADE. I can’t “win” the contest to be, like, best mom or something, a contest that would make me cringe even if it existed, WHICH IT DOESN’T.

So: yay, insight into personal motivations!!! Boo, emotional breakdowns and crazy internal monologues!!! But the real question you’re asking is: What now? Or I’m asking it, at least. One thing’s for sure: this camp thing is going to be dialed down a couple of notches. We actually had a great week on France, links for which will be up shortly, but then we got a little bogged down in India, much like the British in the first half of the 20th century. Unlike the British, we only spent two weeks there, and the girls now kind of know what a sari is … and they can recognize Ganesha when they see him … and they might be able to tell you what the OM symbol means. Also they like yoga, but almost certainly have not retained that it is Indian in origin. Ditto yogurt. This coming week is supposed to be Mexico, and I’m trying to figure out how to do a lite version of that country while simultaneously prepping for the roadtrip we’re making at the end of the week, down to my sister’s house in Knoxville. (Or, as Sylvia pronounces it “Knoxpital.”) Maybe we’ll … eat quesadillas while listening to mariachi music, and then work on the great coloring pages sent to us by a friend doing a similar summer camp? Or we could visit one of the many mexican groceries in town. I dunno. Or we might just have “prep for epic roadtrip” week, and see if I can break my decade long streak of not packing until the night before we leave.

Speaking of epic roadtrips, I’m not even going to MENTION the children’s audio books I’ve gotten from the library for the trip. Or the totes cute three-ring binders I’ve spent hours making for each girl, filled with games and stories and activities to entertain them in the car. Or the roadtrip bingo cards I found online, printed out, and laminated. Or the car-organizational ideas I found on Pinterest.

It’s an illness, y’all. That, or I really need to get the hell back on the career path. Once I figure out just what career I’m pathing, that is. In the meantime, if you see me obsessively checking Pinterest or hoarding toilet paper rolls for future art installations, please feel free to tell me to Calm The Fuck Down. I probably won’t listen, but it might make me giggle.

Dots from Down Under

Today was arts and crafts day at Camp Nellie Bly. And since we’re “in” Australia this week, I decided we could learn about aboriginal dot painting, which is extremely cool, fun, and kid-friendly. We invited some friends over to join us, which – I cannot tell a lie – can occasionally stress me out a little. Not the kids themselves, but my ability to keep them entertained. But this turned out to be really fun and not stressful, which is why I’m sharing it. Could be my meds working like they’re supposed to, could be that I’m getting the hang of this. Don’t know, don’t care.

Aboriginal Art DemoFirst, I blew my own mind by making paint. MAKING IT, y’all. It was like being God. Well, if God is broke and has no childcare, which is the situation I found myself in last night after the girls were in bed, and I realized that I had zero paint in the house and 5 children with whom to do a painting project the next morning. Chad is in Nashville on a business trip, so I couldn’t just run out to the craft store and grab some tempera paints. (Also because they make you pay money for those things, unless you steal them, but I haven’t stolen anything since that time when I was six, and I shoplifted a lipgloss from the drug store, and my sister ratted me out [THANKS, ELLEN] and my mom made me GO TO A PRIEST and confess my sin. Which is kind of hilarious if you know how not like that my mom usually is.) But then I remembered Pinterest!! Pinterest will save me! And sure enough, there were, like, twelvety-thousillion different recipes for making paint on Pinterest. Finger paints, face paints, interior wall paints (!), textured paints, you name it. I settled on this one, since it was simple (flour, salt and water) and chemical (cooked until it thickens) and sounded like it would work. It made about 2.5 cups of paint base, which I could then put in a squeeze bottle and squirt into the egg carton cups I’d cut out for each kid. Stop rolling your eyes.

Of course, once I’d made it I had to try it out. At midnight. Because I’m dumb like that. It worked pretty slick, using food coloring for the different shades I wanted. The handprint painting in the picture above was my finished project.  Continue reading

Sayonara, Japan; Hej hej Sweden!

Japan Week Collage Well. I do not know WHERE this week has gone. One thing about Camp Nellie Bly is that it’s keeping us ALL busy. In fact, Mama may need to dial it down on the research and presentation aspects of this here camp, because between teaching an online class, blogging, and camp prep I am spending pretty much every moment that I’m not with the girls attached to my computer. The problem is, I enjoy the shit out of researching each country. It’s unexpectedly fun to look at each place from the perspective of what my kids would find interesting or engaging. The nice thing about doing this when they’re so young is that I’m more interested in giving them a little taste of these places than I am in them retaining facts and figures. I know they won’t remember every capital or traditional costume, but I hope they will gain a sense for how diverse and colorful the world is, and how many different ways there are to be a citizen of planet earth.  Continue reading

It’s possible that I’ve gone a little overboard

LogoForCampNellieBlyWell! This has been a veritable whirlwind of a week. It was the official first week of summer, but since Minneapolis schools didn’t get out until Wednesday, we (I) decided to use this week for prep and start summer camp on the 10th. This would have been a great plan, full of fun times and relaxed summer days, except that I forgot I had jury duty, so Monday and Tuesday were full of scrambling around trying to set up childcare (thank god for good friends who are willing to take my kids last minute), and then serving on a jury (interesting, but not interesting enough to make up for the hassle) and I’m *still* technically on jury duty, but now I just have to call in twice a day and maybe I won’t have to go back in at all. And then Wednesday my kids decided to celebrate the first day of summer holidays by displaying every bad habit or quality they possess, all at the same time, loudly, in my face. So by the time I was done with all that, I felt like I was scrambling to get everything ready in time. Which is a stupid way to feel, given that the only person who is holding me accountable for having everything done “on time” is ME, and I could theoretically let myself off the hook, except that I don’t really have that ability so much at all.

Here are the things I am thankful for this week: Pinterest, Color Inkjet Printers, and Gluesticks. The past few days have been an orgy of downloading, printing and assembling various items to set up for our summer experience. Y’all, I am obsessed with free internet printables. Which, yes, I realize that was not even a word until, like, last week. But I have always been one of those people for whom shopping for school supplies was the highlight of the academic year, and there is so much great stuff out there! Sure, you have to spend hours sifting through crap to find it, but Forms! Calendars! Worksheets! Coloring pages! Charts! It’s all out there and it looks pretty and the time I spend finding and choosing it is almost made up for by the time I save in not having to create it myself! Continue reading

DIY Summer Camp, or: How I Will Probably Lose My Marbles This Summer

Game of Round the World with Nellie Bly It’s June, somehow. We kind of missed April and May in this neck of the woods, so now it’s June even though it FEELS like it should only be April and I am thus mentally unprepared for summer – or, to be specific, for NO SCHOOL.

It’s curious, really, because it wasn’t so long ago that I had both kids around all the time, and that was just … the way things were. Before preschool and elementary school started, there wasn’t a huge demarcation between summer and the other seasons, except that we could go outside more often and the pools were open. But after only a year of having one in school all day and one in preschool some days, I am loathe to become the sole source of activities and structure for the next three months. And before I come off too helicopter-parenty, OF COURSE I realize that my kids need to take charge of their own entertainment and learn to be self-sufficient and blah blah blah. Yes. Agreed. But let us also take into account that this is a seven-year-old and a four-year-old we’re talking about here, so while they’re actually better than most kids at entertaining themselves for long periods of time, that skill is only going to get us so far. Plus also, we have apparently hit the phase I have long been dreading, where playing together – which up to now they have been delightful at doing – means actually playing 30% of the time and bickering 70%. Which is making me 100% crazy.

I’m not gonna lie, I have had some panicked moments, thinking about the long days and weeks looming ahead of us. Previous summers I have coped by signing Ellie up for various week-long “camps” through the Parks and Rec system, and putting both girls in swimming lessons, and stuff like that. I wasn’t *totally* happy with that system – our schedule was never the same two weeks running, and I felt more like a chauffeur than a parent – but at least it gave some structure to our days and gave us something to look forward to. This summer, however, camps and swimming lessons are not an option; my teaching hours have been cut by 1/3 and that means we can pick either summer activities or preschool for Sylvia next year, and frankly, that’s a no-contest choice right there. (But thank you so bleeding much, shit economy and beyond-stupid adjunct teaching system.) So in planning for the upcoming summer, I basically have two options: go-with-the-flow and just let shit happen as it will, or plan something myself. Continue reading